It has often been speculated that people who live in colder climates drink more heavily than their counterparts in warmer countries. And now we have proof – a study, recently published in Hepatology, found that as temperature and sunlight hours dropped, alcohol consumption increased. But this isn’t the image of long wintry nights and cheery pubs that some may conjure up – the study, the first of its kind, also found that climate factors were also tied to binge drinking and the prevalence of alcoholic liver disease, one of the main causes of mortality in patients with prolonged excessive alcohol use.
Using data from the World Health Organization, the World Meteorological Organization and other large, public data sets, the study found a clear negative correlation between climate factors – average temperature and sunlight hours – and alcohol consumption, measured as total alcohol intake per capita, percent of the population that drinks alcohol, and the incidence of binge drinking.
The report was co-authored by Dr Peter McCann, a medical advisor to Smarmore Rehab Clinic in County Louth, who stated: “We now have new evidence that the weather, and in particular the temperature and amount of sunlight that we are exposed to, has a strong influence on how much alcohol we consume.”
“Alcohol is a vasodilator – it increases the flow of warm blood to the skin, which is full of temperature sensors – so drinking can increase feelings of warmth. Also, drinking is linked to depression, which tends to be worse when sunlight is scarce and there’s a chill in the air,” he added.
“The Festive period is a time of high stress for anyone struggling with alcohol addiction. Some use it as cover for excessive consumption, and others isolate themselves instead. It puts tremendous pressure on both the addict and their families. The findings of this study warrant serious consideration of restricted festive period drink advertising as the Public Health (Alcohol) Act 2018 is being implemented,” concluded Dr McCann.
Why was this study done?
“We couldn’t find a single paper linking climate to alcoholic intake or alcoholic cirrhosis,” said lead author Dr. Ramon Bataller, associate director of the Pittsburgh Liver Research Center.
“This is the first study that systematically demonstrates that worldwide, and in colder areas, and areas with less sun, you have more drinking and more alcoholic cirrhosis,” he added.